Impressions of Oaxaca

After many years of hard work, Genna, Liza, and I finally had a chance to travel to Oaxaca, the place that has largely inspired GlobeIn and defined our direction as a social business. I vividly remember talking on Skype with Co-Founder Anastasia Miron back in 2012 as she traveled through Mexico in search of artisans for our pilot project. She told me the story of riding on top of a local bus, piled high with goats and luggage, to a small village, where she met Marina Lopez Antonio and her parents.

Five years later Marina oversees a basket weaver network that spans multiple villages, growing at times of high demand to over 150 artisans. While we’d never met in person until now, I’ve been wearing a handwoven bracelet she made as a gift for me several years ago, that serves as a reminder of our values and commitments.

GlobeIn team travel Oaxaca Mexico

Marina, and her husband-to-be Leobardo, greeted us with open arms and made this first in-person meeting feel like a reunion of old friends. Their humble home, constructed partially with income from GlobeIn, attracts friends and relatives from across the village to stop by and enjoy a clayuda cooked on an open fire or a cup of hot chocolate with fresh bread.

Marina and Leo are also organizing their wedding, an 800-person, week-long event to be held later this year. Thanks to a beautiful Oaxaca tradition, the community contributes generously, giving food, music and everything in their power to help the couple. We were invited as well, by an offered cigarette. Another Oaxaca tradition, this supposedly implies we will discuss the wedding plans while smoking (although no-one we’ve met on this trip actually smokes).

artisan basket weaving group Oaxaca

Through hard work and strategic foresight, Marina and Pamela (our country manager in Mexico) established a strong network of artisan leaders, each representing groups of artisans in distant villages. These leaders hold regular meetings, and some of them travel as far as 7 hours, leaving at 3 in the morning (talk about a long commute!)

Before GlobeIn, these groups did not interact and often regarded each other as competitors in a small local market. Through these meetings, they became part of one GlobeIn team and share knowledge and techniques required for making consistent products at scale.

Coming to Oaxaca we knew that we’ve made some impact to these communities. We knew that Leo stopped working on the farm and joined Marina in managing GlobeIn operations and that they were able to renovate their house. We knew that our monthly orders provide many artisans with a more stable income, so they can save money to invest into their dream projects, which include starting a Mezcal distillery (palenque). What we didn’t realize until we had a chance to meet the artisan leaders and visit some of the remote communities is that working with GlobeIn has resulted in a less tangible, but more fundamental, transformation. Many of our leaders have never been in leadership positions, never managed projects nor taken responsibilities beyond their family commitments.

GlobeIn artisans at Mexican market

Don Juan and his wife Juanita, were simple basket weavers with moderate ambitions. After working with GlobeIn and taking responsibility for organizing their community they realized that they could do more. With support from the government, they opened their own store in downtown Oaxaca, where they bring products from their very remote village to showcase to tourists and potential wholesale buyers. As Liza wrote in a blog post celebrating World Fair Trade Day, the transformation was especially empowering to Juanita, who found in GlobeIn an opportunity to become an equal partner with her husband.

empowering artisans in Mexico

Theresita – one of the most recent members of the GlobeIn team, despite having as much trouble with Spanish as me (she comes from an indigenous community in San Cristobal Amatlan that speaks predominantly Zapotec) through hard work and dedication quickly rose to a leadership position. She generously greeted us with a dinner on a terrace of a new home that she is building with her husband, with a beautiful view but no windows and doors – there is still a lot more work to be done for us in San Cristobal and other parts of Oaxaca.

sharing oaxaca traditions

I am leaving with a suitcase full of handwoven baskets, bottles of mezcal brewed by new-found friends, and the second bracelet from Marina around my wrist, reminding that we need to work twice as hard to achieve our mission.

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Post written by Vladimir Ermakov, Co-Founder and CEO of GlobeIn.